From playing dead to living life

Elle Canta
8 min readAug 12, 2021


Photo by Madeleine Maguire on Unsplash

I survived my childhood by playing dead. It started before I could speak, and continued until my worst abuser died when I was 22. I learned to comprehend other things, but what was happening to me behind closed doors was beyond comprehension. My tiny body couldn’t process the trauma, so my brand new brain tried to keep me alive and relatively sane by severing the connections between my thoughts, my emotions, and my physical sensations.

Some of my thoughts and emotions, even some specific moments of my childhood, floated around inside my brain. Without a healthy connection to another human, I had no rudder, no sail, no anchor to reality. Over time, a few of these fragments developed their own personalities. Most are flat and static, but a couple were well-rounded enough to pass as me.
I am a multiple, and I’ve spent most of my life in the land of the dead.

A person’s response to trauma was once categorized by either fight or flight. This has grown to include the freeze or fawn response. For a multiple (especially, but not exclusively) I would add one more — feign. I’ve used all of them to survive. Back then, the response I used most often was to freeze, because I couldn’t fight what was happening to me, and I couldn’t get away. I retreated to a safe corner in my brain, and I shut down. I dissociated. I played dead. And when more began to be required of me than that, I fawned and I feigned.
I was alive, but I wasn’t living.

So that is how I survived the unsurvivable. I was numb and disconnected from everyone and everything around me. When the abuse finally stopped, I was a young adult. Living like a Zombie was the only way I knew to live, but I didn’t know that that’s what I was. I’d never experienced genuine connection with another human. I knew I was different, but I didn’t know how, or understand why. Shortly before my primary abuser died, the authorities finally caught wind of some of what was being done to me, and they intervened. I was put in a place where I was relatively safe, and one of my abusers was formally charged.

However, I believed everything my family had ever told me. I deserved the neglect because I was so disgusting. Who could stand being around me? I knew I was an awful person…



Elle Canta

I write about childhood trauma and living as a bipolar multiple. Some poetry, ranty bits, and gritty stories told in lyrical language.